Friday, February 16, 2007

Is Iran Is Our Enemy?

A few days ago, in discussing the perils of our policy towards Iran, Wes Clark was asked what is arguably the most fundamental question in the current excitement about Iran: "Is Iran our enemy?" His response was -

An enemy? I wouldn't want to be branding people as enemies too soon. That was one of Bush's many mistakes. Iran is a nation we have many disagreements with...and that's why we should be discussing, not sabre rattling

This is the question we should be looking at, not whether Iran wants to get nuclear weapons or whether it is providing military and other assistance to one or more factions in the Iraq civil war. And not just any enemy. But rather an enemy with whom our differences are so grave as to justify going to war.

Before discussing the history of our relations with Iran lets look at why the issues of nuclear weapons and military support to adversaries is never by itself grounds for war. I hate to belabor what should be obvious, but feel the need to do so because this Administration uses these issues to create anger and fear as a substitute for a rationale approach to our relations with Iran.

It goes without saying that having a nuclear weapon does not an enemy make. We have no problem with our friends and allies having nuclear weapons. We have had past "enemies" such as Russia and China with nuclear weapons who are, if not friends, at least partners. Conversely, all of our wars, except the Cold War, were with countries that did not have nuclear weapons. We encouraged many countries to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and all, with two or three exceptions, did not use that technology to build bombs. (I say "two or three" because India and Pakistan are open nuclear powers whereas Israel has kept its bombs under a bushel basket.) None of these countries became our enemies when they acquired nuclear weapons and the same would be true with Iran.

What about providing weapons to our adversaries? Does that make someone our enemy and provide a basis for going to war against them? There are many historical examples of why the answer is "no" and here are three.

During the Korean war the USSR provided military and other support to the North Koreans, including jet fighters and the pilots who flew them. While the Soviets were clearly our Cold War enemy we did not use this as a basis to attack them. Similarly, while the Chinese sent hundreds of thousand of troops into Korea to battle the U.N. forces we did not use that as a pretext to attack China. Over the objections of MacArthur we did everything we could to contain the conflict.

From this standpoint Viet Nam was a repeat of Korea. The Soviets supported the North Vietnamese with arms and other material. We not only did not use that support as a basis for attacking the Soviets but were concerned, on and off, about sinking Soviet supply ships entering Haiphong harbor. As in Korea we sought to not escalate the war though we would have had ample provocation.

The tables were turned in the Afghan war to expel the soviets. We supplied the Afghan troops with everything from bullets to Stinger missiles for years and the Soviets knew it. But as with us in the prior two conflicts they did not use our actions as a pretext for going to war.

So what is it with Iran? What is our beef against them and their beef against us. Here is a brief chronology of some of the most significant events of the last fifty years involving the U.S and Iran.

* We deposed Mohammed Mossadegh their elected Prime Minister in 1953 and installed the Shah;

* We armed the Shah to the teeth as a bulwark against the USSR and friend of Israel

* We sided with the Shah in suppressing the Iranian Kurds

* The people revolted under the Ayatollah

* Our hostages were illegally imprisoned in violation of international law

* Diplomatic relations between our countries ceased

* Iran were invaded by Iraq, who we supported

* Iran gave refuge to anti-Saddam Shia

* Iran helped Iraqi Shia train anti-Saddam militias

* Iran continued to be anti-Soviet but were now anti-Israel

* Iran supported palestinian and Lebanese groups and militias, particularly Hezbollah

* We shot down an Iranian passenger plane by accident killing over a hundred people

* Iran was found by a Federal Judge to have been responsible for Khobar Towers bombing

* Iran opposed the Soviets in Afghanistan

* When the Taliban came to power Iran, unlike Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, did not recognize them

* Iran provided material and logistical support to overthrow the
Taliban/Qaeda until Bush declared them the Axis of Evil

* We deposed Sadaam, their worst enemy, and put the Shia, their best Iraqi friends, in power

* Iran is probably giving arms and other support to their Iraqi allies

* Iran continues to arrest and detain al Qaeda operatives

* Iran is a signatory to the NNPT unlike India, Pakistan and Israel

* Iran may be able to build nuclear weapons years from now

* Iran has never waged war against us

* Iran is still seeking reparations from Iraq for the 1980 war

* We continue to hold assets seized after the hostage crisis.

It seems clear that we have some issues with them and they with us. If the roles were reversed and they had begun interfering in our internal affairs in 1953 and engineered a coup ousting Eisenhower I wonder how we would feel. It also seems clear that we have no irreconcilable differences with the Iranians. All we need to do is start dealing with them as adults. Yes, the hostage taking in 1979 was an outrage. But time has passed. In fact more time has passed than it took us to establish diplomatic relations with the Vietnamese after the war. We and they need to move on. And now is the time.

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